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Psychedelic Research Is Striving to Be Inclusive This Time

The psychedelic movement is striving to be more inclusive than it was in the 1960s.

Psychedelic Research Is Striving To Be Inclusive This Time
Guido Vermeulen-Perdaen via Shutterstock

Take a second to imagine the psychedelic culture in the 1960s. 

Your vision probably involves Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) traveling around the country on the Merry Pranksters’ bus. Or a Grateful Dead concert full of people tripping out on LSD. What you may or may not notice is the groups of people in the photos are disproportionately white.

In the 1960s, psychedelic culture was thriving and research was being done. 

But politicians disapproved and began to worry about the impact of psychedelics on American culture. One thing after another eventually led to the War on Drugs in the 1970s. And the War on Drugs caused this culture to come to a halt.

It took until the 1990s for attitudes on psychedelics to heal. And then research could finally start peaking from the shadows. 

The Issue of Diversity in Psychedelic Research

Today, over 26 studies have been approved. Assisted therapy research including psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, and ayahuasca are all underway. And this time, researchers are considering the importance of diversity. 

It’s a fact Black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Americans. And Black Americans are 5.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than white Americans. So it makes sense why Black Americans hold back from participating in research trials with [currently] illegal drugs.

The freedom to explore and talk about psychedelics has always been a privilege. Money, time, space, and freedom of prosecution all play a role in a person’s decision to experiment with psychedelics. So it’s always been easier for white, college-educated men to take part in this “luxury.”

But there is irony in the privilege that comes along with partaking in psychedelics. Because indigenous cultures used psychedelics for rituals long before the 1960s. For thousands of years, people in the Amazon took ayahuasca, Bwiti practitioners took iboga, Central Americans used magic mushrooms, and Native Americans took peyote.

Creating an Inclusive Psychedelic Movement

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) held the Psychedelic Integration Conference at Esalen in March of 2019.  The 25 attendees were disproportionately white men. 

After noticing this, MAPS is urging more people of color to conduct research studies and that psychedelic studies be inclusive. Equal opportunities for participation are important to fully understand the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. And every person should have the right to participate without fear of prosecution.

Ifetayo Harvey, Founder at People of Color Psychedelic Collective, says she’s not comfortable in psychedelic spaces if people are not talking about racism in relation to the war on drugs. People often refuse to talk about the issue, even when it’s sitting right in front of them. Racism in psychedelics needs to be talked about to make the psychedelic movement inclusive.

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Diversity and inclusion is a discussion that needs to continue. It can’t be addressed once and then put away because racism is intergenerational trauma. That means addressing the issue once and leaving it alone does not suffice. Because a trauma that’s affected generations of people may take generations to heal.

So How Can You Help Create Diversity in Psychedelics?

Talk about it. 

Continue talking about psychedelic medicine to normalize and destigmatize it. And within those conversations, talk about diversity and inclusion. Because institutional racism affects every facet of society, including psychedelic mental health research studies. Having psychedelic conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion will encourage researchers to practice with fidelity while helping to positively shift our culture.

Are You Wondering How to Participate in a Psychedelic Research Study?

You can search for any clinical trial at ClinicalTrials.gov—a resource provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Please keep in mind we are not recommending you take psychedelics. They are a schedule 1 drug and can be dangerous if not taken under medical supervision. ClinicalTrials.gov is a government website that lists all over 300,000 clinical trials in all U.S. states and in 215 countries.

Potential risks of joining a psychedelic clinical trial

The biggest and most obvious risk is that psychedelic research is an investigational treatment. Psychedelics can be dangerous and many of the current clinical trials are investigating the safety of their medical use. So the truth is, although psychedelics have been found to help mental health issues and research is promising, researchers are still not sure about their safety.

A less obvious risk, but a serious one, is the researchers themselves. Psychedelics are mind-altering drugs and you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position when you take them. There have been several accounts of sexual assault by the researcher when the participant was under the influence. You don’t know who the researcher is so it’s important you feel you can trust them before you put yourself in a vulnerable position.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    G

    June 19, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    This article really missed the mark. There is a vast richness of people of color in psychedelics; in the past and now. More research could have been done to highly this diversity, the war on drugs, the psychedelic renaissance- all of it.

    Please do better

    • Avatar

      Ry

      June 19, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      Agree there is vast richness. But I don’t see the vast richness shown in the media which is totally messed up because of the vast richness you mention. I mean, I can definitely see how diversity in research is a problem. It’s messed up that people of color feel uncomfortable participating in a research study simply because psychedelics are involved. Other participants don’t have that fear. Just doesn’t make sense. It does good highlighting the current issue.

  2. Avatar

    Brad Burge

    June 23, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    This article is right that psychedelic research and therapy needs to include more people of color, and that MAPS and other organizations are serious about learning what needs to change, and committed to making those changes. Unfortunately the article has an important factual error: The Psychedelic Integration 2019 event at Esalen was not organized by MAPS—the event was hosted by Esalen and organized by Allan Badiner with the help of Dream Mullick. Here’s the event information: https://www.esalen.org/page/psychedelic-integration-2019. Rick Doblin participated in the event as a speaker, but MAPS did not organize or host it. MAPS served as non-profit fiscal sponsor for the event, which means that MAPS accepted donations for the event, passing them on to the organizers minus a small administrative fee. Also, the article states that “There have been several accounts of sexual assault by the researcher when the participant was under the influence” and links to MAPS’ statement on the issue, which refers not to several accounts but to one. I encourage the writer or the High Times editorial staff to reach out to MAPS for future articles on the subject, and we’ll be delighted to work with them! (The contact form on the website appears to be broken.)

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